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Strategic Dialogue: Obama to woo India

Washington: The Obama administration is expected to put considerable effort into wooing India, which it sees as a potentially major international trade and security partner, when it hosts the first Strategic US-India Dialogue from Thursday.

According to a Washington Post report, Thursday and Friday’s meetings follows similar “strategic dialogue” sessions with Afghanistan last month and Pakistan in March.

It will bring together Cabinet officials from across the government to meet with their counterparts. But while the Afghan war and regional security issues are on the agenda, the administration has emphasized that the meeting is more akin to the “whole of government” sessions.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will head the Indian delegation at a State Department meeting Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, National Security Adviser James L. Jones and other senior officials.

In his National Security Strategy released last week, President Obama said the U.S.-India alliance would be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, along with U.S. ties with other “emerging powers.”

In a symbolic gesture not extended to Afghanistan or Pakistan, the president will go to the State Department on Thursday for a reception Clinton will host for the Indian delegation.

The Washington Post report says that President Obama will have to convince India that growing U.S. engagement with China, which India sees as a rival and an occasionally threatening power, and the administration’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and Pakistan will not be at New Delhi’s expense.

New Delhi believes that the Obama administration is being duped by Pakistani pledges to sever ties with insurgent groups such as those held responsible for the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

Pakistan, for its part, sees Indian efforts to play an active role in Afghanistan as part of a plot to encircle Pakistan.

“We do not see relations in Asia as a zero-sum game. Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to one another,” he said, “and never has there been a moment when partnership between India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe,” said Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns on Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations.”

“The simple truth is India’s strength and progress on the world stage is deeply in the strategic interest of the U.S,” Burns said.

“This administration has been, and will remain, deeply committed to supporting India’s rise,” he added.

“Some Americans worry,” Burns said, “that India is ambivalent about its own rise in the world, still torn between its G-77 and G-20 identities.”

President Obama has declared that the G-20, an expansion of the traditional G-8 group of wealthy nations to include India, Brazil and other emerging powers, is the dominant structure in the world economy.

U.S. businesses have been frustrated by India’s slow progress in passing a law limiting liability for foreign companies in the case of industrial accidents, required for full implementation of the civil nuclear agreement.

The agreement, which gives nuclear-armed India access to U.S. technology and fuel, is worth billions to U.S. companies.

In a speech Wednesday to the U.S.-India Business Council, Krishna said his government remains committed to passage of the law this year.

Despite ongoing Indian concern about the Afghan war, he said, economic and technological cooperation remain the centerpiece of U.S.-India cooperation.

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